McMaster-School Board Plan a Positive Step

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 11, 2009

Today's Spectator reports a breakthrough in the on-again, off-again proposal to establish a mixed-use education and health centre downtown on the current site of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) office.

According to the latest plan, the HWDSB will sell the site to McMaster, and then rent space in a newly constructed complex. The city's public health department will also rent space.

This is certainly welcome news - HWDSB employees working downtown are better than on a suburban business park somewhere on the east mountain. To the extent that the new plan opens the building and integrates it more closely with its surroundings (e.g. in the manner of the neighbouring Art Gallery of Hamilton), that's good for downtown.

At the same time, increasing energy price volatility over the next decade or two will make this look like a better and better idea as time goes on.

It's also good to get the university and the city on closer terms. We could certainly benefit from the expertise at McMaster, but historically the city government has been reluctant to get too close (former councillor Dave Braden suggests in a 2006 interview with Maggie Hughes that this is because the city didn't want to hear a lot of flack about their unsustainable development plans).

Finally, there's the important point that lots of economic stimulus money is flowing right now, and these kinds of facilities are where we should be spending our money (as opposed to, say, highways).

That said, I don't see it as the great panacea that some have suggested. Frankly, if having the HWDSB downtown was such a great engine of revitalization, it should already be acting as such.

Even the medical research facility is generally a good thing, but medical research as a field doesn't have a great multiplier effect.

For one thing, public research institutions don't pay property tax! Beyond that, health care is not a for-profit industry in Canada (for which I'm certainly grateful), so innovative spinoff business opportunities are somewhat limited.

As always, what will get downtown all the way around the corner is a number of small and medium sized initiatives and changes, a laudable goal toward which this plan, if successful, will certainly contribute.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:14:02

Do we know if it is going to be the same layout as teh previous building proposal??

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By More Ugly (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 15:12:38

Yes, it's good to have the Board stay downtown, and wow, something constructive coming out of endless discussions by various "civic leaders", but I've just one question: With all that empty parking space downtown why can't civic leaders build without tearing down?

Farewell another little jewell of Hamilton architecture. Here comes more ugly.

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By Re More Ugly (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 16:19:48

I'm sure that if Mc'Master has their hand in the project the building will not be ugly.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 16:30:35

Perhaps not. But we're losing a jewel nonetheless.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 16:49:37

I know the city had some wonderful renderings done by a local architectural firm

But I have a feeling that this project will end up looking like most of the new buildings on the Mac campus - suburban office parkish.

Yea, I'm baffled at how this city operates. Not to be negative about such a fabulous project as this, but why the heck must we tear down an incredibly unique building when half of downtown is ugly parking lots??

Once the Board of Ed comes down, we'll NEVER get another building like it. Same as Lister, City Hall, Courthouse etc..... why build on empty parking lots when we can demolish wonderful pieces of our urban fabric.

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By arrgh (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 22:03:38

But if we build on empty parking lots, where are we going to put the empty parking lots???

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By Municipal P (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2009 at 23:26:35

Where are we going to park? Tell me! There isn't enough parking downtown as it is....


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By Intrepid (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2009 at 10:21:28

Don't worry about parking the board only wants a storefront downtown. most of the staff and admin will still go up to the mountain.

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